Abandon Ideology: Beyond Order Rule 6 (Jordan Peterson)

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What, exactly, is an ideology? What are its limitations? How can people find meaning and direction without them?

According to Jordan Peterson, ideology should be dropped. In Beyond Order, he discusses the pitfalls of ideology and recommends an alternative path toward civil society and personal fulfillment.

Read more to learn why Peterson urges us to abandon ideology.

Beyond Order Rule 6: Abandon Ideology

Western civilization was once founded on traditional Judeo-Christian values, and these values told us our history, culture, conventions, and how to live together civilly. However, modern science and rationalism have diminished belief in God and removed those foundations. The loss of our traditional values left a moral void that scientific materialism has failed to fill. And, while modern materialism hasn’t produced a better system of values, people still need guidance as to what’s meaningful, how the world works, and what we ought to do with our lives.

According to Jordan Peterson, ideologies came along in the 20th century in an effort to fill this need. He explains how they failed to satisfy the need, and he recommends that we abandon ideology altogether.

(Shortform note: One effort to navigate the void of meaning left by the decline of traditional religious society is John Vervaeke’s Awakening from the Meaning Crisis lecture series. Vervaeke, a University of Toronto professor who was a colleague of Peterson’s, gestures toward creating a “religion of no religion” as one part of a solution to the meaning crisis. In other words, he contends that we need a new “metanarrative,” or grand story that explains our history and our place in the universe, in order to live well and morally. Religion used to provide this story, and Vervaeke suggests we do need the meaning-making aspects of religion, but without its superstitious, nonscientific aspects.) 

Peterson describes ideologies as simplistic accounts of how the world works and of what’s right versus wrong. In essence, an ideology 1) declares the cause of all suffering, 2) claims to have the solution, and 3) offers the moral high ground to people who join the tribe. For instance, Marxism explained all suffering in terms of class struggle, cast capitalists as the bad guys, and claimed that we just need to redistribute resources to make everyone equal. 

However, Peterson says, ideologies misrepresent the complexity of the real world. Major problems like human suffering and inequality have complex and historically contingent causes that we can’t easily uncover, and ideologues intentionally obscure this complexity. If you fall for simplistic answers given with righteous conviction, Peterson argues, you risk becoming arrogant and susceptible to manipulation. Specifically, feeling like you have the indisputable moral high ground allows you to condemn those who disagree with you and become resentful of people who think differently.

To avoid this problem, reject dogma and choose to grapple with the true complexity of the world. Educate yourself, reading and learning across ideological boundaries. Figure out your own life before you try to tell other people how to live. Over time, you’ll develop your own thinking and become able to deal with larger and more complex problems in the real world.

Reject Ideology, Get Gray-Pilled

If you want to remain intellectually autonomous, consider the idea of gray-pilling: Constantly exposing yourself to new information, perspectives, and arguments so that you never become too comfortable with what you think you know. This notion is a play on red-pilling, which some internet communities use to mean that you’ve “discovered a hidden, secret truth” and become privy to something most people don’t know.

Writer and consultant Venkatesh Rao argues that red-pilling is just deceiving yourself into believing you’ve found some final answer or belief system that will solve all your problems. Red pills are typically packaged as hidden truths that you get initiated into, and they tend to function as ideological dogmas—similar to the political systems Peterson describes.

On the other hand, gray pills are meant to shake things up, challenge your beliefs, and help you stay “intellectually alive.” By regularly seeking out gray pills, you’ll avoid falling into any ideological dead ends. To find them, try these tactics:

• Expose yourself to opposing viewpoints, such as political stances you typically disagree with.

• Engage in good faith with arguments and stances you typically wouldn’t hold.

• Surf social networks such as Twitter to find obscure niches and perspectives that further challenge what you think you know.
Abandon Ideology: Beyond Order Rule 6 (Jordan Peterson)

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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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